Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd

Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd

25/06/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Janet Finch-Saunders AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Leanne Wood AM
Michelle Brown AM
Mike Hedges AM Yn dirprwyo ar ran Jack Sargeant
Substitute for Jack Sargeant

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Julie James AM Y Gweinidog Tai a Llywodraeth Leol
Minister for Housing and Local Government
Neil Hemington Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Stephen Phipps Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Graeme Francis Clerc
Clerk
Ross Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Sam Mason Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:00.

The meeting began at 09:00.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datganiadau o fuddiant
1. Introduction, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Good morning—bore da. Croeso—welcome. This morning, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the Minister, Julie James AM, and her officials, Neil Hemington and Stephen Phipps. We welcome you to the session today.

Apologies—we have Neil McEvoy. Jack Sargeant cannot be with us today, but has given his apologies for this meeting, and Mike Hedges is attending in his place.

2. Sesiwn Dystiolaeth: Cynllunio
2. Evidence Session: Planning

We're extremely grateful to you for coming to our committee this morning to discuss a number of petitions relating to the planning system in one single session. We hope this will prove to be an efficient use of both yours and the committee's time. In terms of the practical running of this session, we intend to group petition P-05-881 'Fix our planning system' and petition P-05-786 'Save our Countryside—Revise TAN 1' together, given the similarities of the issues they raise. We will take questions on these petitions first before moving on to petitions about third-party rights and local authority constitution later in the session. If you're content with this, we'll move straight forward to questions. 

Thank you. There will be a copy of the transcript sent for you to check for any factual inaccuracies.

Could you summarise the key issues and concerns identified in the call for evidence for the current housing delivery review?

This is an interesting time for us because we've had the responses back in, but we haven't formally responded. So, we've got a number of responses back in, which are broadly in favour of a plan-led system. The responses are very much, I'm afraid, what you would expect. So, the developers are less in favour of a plan-led system, and the planning authorities are more in favour of a plan-led system. But it's broadly balanced—the majority of responses were in favour of a plan-led system. We are ourselves in favour of a plan-led system. The issue will be whether we need to adjust the plans in the light of any of the responses that are coming back. It's important to bear in mind what we're trying to achieve. So, what we're trying to achieve is a sustainable system of planning that balances out the needs of the countryside and our communities with our need to develop a housing supply that means that we don't have a big problem with insufficient housing. And at the moment, we do have a problem with insufficient housing. So, the system is trying to balance off protection of the natural environment and the countryside, in a plan-led way, but still arriving at a system where we develop the right kind of housing in the right place for local people. And obviously, the whole point of the planning system is to give local people and their representatives the primary say in how that works. 

Thank you. When will the review be complete, and when will you publish its conclusions?

We're going to publish the conclusions in July, I think it is—certainly before the summer recess. So, in the next few weeks.

Thank you. And what has been the effect of disapplying paragraph 6.2 of TAN 1? Do you have any evidence for a change in local planning authorities' decision making or the types of development proposals coming forward?

Well, I wouldn't necessarily see that, because, obviously, we see the appeal end of the system, so we don't see the whole thing. So, I don't have evidence of precisely that sort. But what we'll be doing is reviewing the responses and looking at it, with what's coming forward. And this is in the context of a whole series of other measures that the Government's taking, complementary to the planning system, to bring forward the right kind of land supply to building particular houses for social rent. So, we'll be responding in that vein, but I don't have the precise information that you've asked for there, because we wouldn't have that, really.

09:05

So the answer to have there been more or less appeals of that sort—well, I wouldn't necessarily see that.

Right. Okay. And are you content with the current joint housing—

Obviously, we've seen some cases where they have been recovered appeals. There are probably others going through the system at the moment, because it does take—. There's a delay, so there are probably appeals in the system at the moment. I think it's probably fair to say that, from our knowledge of the local planning authorities, as you'd expect, most of them welcomed the disapplication of paragraph 6.2—I don't think there's any surprise in that. A number of developers, obviously, were unhappy about that, and some of them may well have taken their planning applications to appeal. But, as the Minister says, we haven't seen a significant number.

Okay. And just as a supplementary on that—and it's been raised quite a few times in the Chamber—a lot of AMs become embroiled, obviously, throughout planning applications, and particularly contentions ones. And it is felt that the appeal process itself is very much weighted in favour of the developer. What are your comments on that, and how can you ensure that there's a far more balanced system, especially when it comes to inspectorate hearings, and, generally, the appeal process?

That's not our view, I have to say. It's always a very careful balance between the rights of an individual who's affected by something and the need to bring forward housing supply, in particular. The whole purpose of a plan-led system is to get local people involved at the planning point. And we need to do a lot more work to ensure that that happens, and to make sure that the plans come forward in a timely fashion, and are reviewed in a timely fashion, so that local people keep having a good say in what their area should look like in terms of the plan. That's the point in time at which we need the local people to be involved, and I think there's a lot more we need to do to make sure that that happens. Because, like yourself, I've seen often a system where people are unaware that the LDP process is going on, and don't realise until a planning application turns up on their local lamppost, or whatever, that that's happened. So we do need to do that. But I don't think burdening the system with a whole series of different rights of appeal, and so on, is the way forward. All you would do then is clog up the entire system with unresolved issues. So we've done a lot of research over several years into appeal rights for various people and who should be allowed to do that. And personally I'm satisfied that we've got the balance about right.

There are two more things I would say about that, though, which we've been discussing with officials. There is an issue around site visits, about what local people feel is going on at a site visit, and whether they should have a voice or not there. And one of the most common complaints I get as an AM is that people have been to a site visit and been told that they can't speak, and they don't like that, and they don't understand the process. So we're having some discussion about whether we can do something about the perceived, if you like, injustice of that. I don't think there is an actual injustice, just to be clear, but I understand the perception of it, and I think that's a very strongly held view. So we are having some discussion about whether we can do something about that sort of process, if you like. But in terms of the actual appeal rights, which I think is what you were asking, I'm not currently proposing to do anything about anything that changes that.

Okay. Are you content with the current joint housing land availability study—JHLAS—process, and can you confirm that this is being considered as part of the review?

That's one of the things we're considering as part of the review. So, when I respond formally to it, we'll be looking at that. The drivers for that are as I set out. So, what we're looking to do is have a plan-led system that delivers the right kinds of land supply—because that's what the plan-led system is for—to develop the kind of housing that we want. And as you'll have heard me saying in the Chamber on a large number of occasions now, we're looking to deliver, in particular, social housing at pace and scale across Wales. Because that's the tenure that's most lacking, most in demand. We probably have enough market-led housing, we've got some affordability housing—so, 80 per cent of market rent and other intermediate housing; we've got some needs there. But the biggest need is in social housing. So, we're looking to make sure we have a system that delivers the right kind of land supply, to make sure that we build the maximum amount of social housing.

09:10

Thank you. And if I could welcome Michelle Brown to your first question in Petitions Committee. 

Thank you. Could you set out the rationale for making the residual method the only method for calculating housing land supply?

Again, what we're trying to do is make sure that we have a system that has a robust methodology for working out what kinds of development we need on our land across Wales. So, if you think of it like that, what we're trying to do in a planning system is: everybody wants the land, so we're trying to work out a way to ensure that the land is used for the right kind of thing for the local planners. So, the old system, which was done on a historical building rate, clearly doesn't do that, because all you're doing then is looking at where the market might have failed in the past and duplicating it. That's not a good system. So, what we're looking to do is do it on proper kinds of projections, on population projection, local housing need, to make sure that the local plans reflect the proper assessment of need of the local area. The whole point of the planning process is to make each locality in charge of its own plan, and we're about to put in place the other tiers of the planning system, actually. We're about to consult on the national development framework and then put the strategic plans in place. So, you get strategic infrastructure plans on top of that.

So, I suppose the short answer to your question would be: the rationale is that the historic system doesn't work, it doesn't produce what we want. We have to have a rationale for working out housing need in particular areas, and so we're satisfied that this is the best system that we can come forward with at the moment. It's part of the review, though, I will say, so when we respond, we may tweak it a bit. 

Just as a supplementary to that question, what other methods of calculating the land supply could you consider? 

The two biggest methods that have been used are looking at the historic building trends and duplicating them or looking at a much more complex calculation of housing need in an area, which is based on population projection, land supply and tenure analysis, which is much better. But there's not kind of absolutely scientific methodology; you're projecting something. So, we're projecting—for example, the population projections have a minimum, median and outside population projection, so it's a projection, with the best will in the world. You have to come to some methodology that allows you to hit a median note in that. You don't want either an oversupply or an undersupply because that affects the market price of the land. So, you're always trying to do a calculation that gets you to the best place for each locality, and the whole point of a local development plan process is to do that locally, so that each locality keeps some control over it democratically. 

If I just explain, perhaps, a little bit about housing land availability studies and the development plan. So, the housing land availability study process predates having complete coverage or near-complete coverage of local government plans. So, in effect, you've got two systems operating. What we've seen and what the evidence has demonstrated is that those two systems do not necessarily work well together. What we're trying to do, and what we are looking to do is making sure that the development plan is a primary process and we are monitoring delivery against that plan. So, setting aside residual past-build rates and things like that, 'What have you said you're going to build in your plan as both developers and as local planning authority?' And there's quite a lot of support for moving in that direction. 

So, the more recent local development plans we have have housing trajectories within them. They have, essentially, a curve that says, 'This is how many houses we're going to build in year 1, year 2, year 3, year 4', and it generally rises like that as you go through time. So, the methodology we're looking at is how you can actually measure housing delivery, because this is actually number of houses built, not land, which is a totally different thing, and tying our monitoring to that and the annual monitoring report process that exists at the moment to come up with one cohesive process rather than two processes, which at the moment are fighting with each other. 

It also links to a whole series of other things that we're doing outside the planning process. So, we run a series of funds, for example the stalled sites funds, trying to bring land that's in the LDP that isn't being developed, to assist people to bring that forward, because there is a big issue about—. If you build everything that's currently in plan, I think it's about 225,000 houses—it's a lot, anyway, I'll check. Is that right? It's about that number, isn't it? 

Yes, it's 225,000—

Two hundred and something-thousand houses. I mean, that would be great if we could do that, but the point is there are a large number of those sites that have been in plan for years and are just not coming forward, so we need to do some stuff to make sure that land that's put into the plan as being ready for a particular development comes forward for that development. So, you're monitoring both the process of planning in the first place and the delivery of it afterwards to make sure that it stays fit for purpose, and based on statistical projections of need and so on, in particular areas. So, the plan is, if you like, the spine of it. The planning system is the spine, but we have a whole series of other things that we do to try and bring forward the land—so, as I say, for example, the stalled sites fund, and I'm currently working with councils across Wales, looking to see why their developments have stalled in particular areas and what we can do to assist them to bring that forward, whether that's with planning arrangements, planning guidance, or whether it's with a different grant arrangement for the social housing grant or whether it's a different arrangement for stalled sites funds or whatever. These things all link together to make sure that the plan is robust and that we're able to monitor that it works, effectively.

09:15

So, at the moment, we have done work looking at this already. What it's showing, in some cases, is there are sites that are difficult in terms of viability for a private sector house builder, perhaps, to build without some form of subsidy, but there are also quite a lot of sites that are viable, both in the public sector and privately owned, where the main motivating factor is the value uplift that you get from having a site included within the plan. So, why would you, if you think values are going to go up in the future, see it developed for housing? So, if we look at some of the local authorities who would be probably very strong in terms of their criticism of technical advice note 1, in some cases there is a situation where there's virtually a monopoly landowner, who perhaps doesn't want to sell their land. In other cases, there's no disposal strategy from the local authority to dispose of their own land. So, these are all sorts of things that, when you look at the plan, you think you've got sufficient land; actually, for what might be very correct motives as an individual, it does not lead to actually housing being developed at the end. What we're interested in through the plans, and what the Minister is keen on seeing, is that land turned into actual homes rather than being used as a unit of speculation.

Thank you for that very comprehensive answer. To what extent were the views of local planning authorities taken into account during the 2014 consultation, given that 19 out of 23 of them—that's 79 per cent of them—were against making the residual method the only method?

Well, we give consideration to all the responses received. Actually, opinions were equally divided. We had 21 people who wanted to make it the only methodology, and 22 who were against it, so pretty evenly divided there. As I said, we've given full consideration to what people think of this, but we also have—. We've just explained at great length what we're trying to do. We're not trying to impose a system on anyone. We're trying to work out the system that will bring forward the most land in the right places for people to have the housing that they so desperately need. We have a severe housing shortage; this is the background to this. We have a severe housing shortage. So, unless we can bring forward the housing supply necessary, we will just continue to have a severe housing shortage, and we will continue to have all of the problems that go with having a severe housing shortage. So, we absolutely have to work out a way for this to work. And the peripheral things that Neil was just talking about—we have to make sure that we disincentivise particular behaviours. Nobody's blaming any individual who wants to sit on land that's going up in value, but, obviously, we want to disincentivise that, because we want that land to come forward, and I'm working very hard outside the planning system—well, peripheral to the planning system; it's always the spine that runs through—on, for example—we just talked about situations where there are monopoly landowners and so on—giving the councils back the power to compulsory purchase land in certain circumstances, and on an arrangement where we regionalise some of the scarce skills so that councils can do that in a more comprehensive fashion. But that's got to be done off the back of a robust planning system. You don't want that to be done randomly all over the place, so you need a plan in place to be able to identify what land you want to go forward with that. So, we're working in a range of areas to do that. Of course we give consideration to the responses, but the responses are in the context of the more global situation, if you like. But it was equally divided, actually, so it's not much help.

I think, Chair, a lot of ground has been covered on the residual method, so I'll move on to asking about delivery, if you don't mind, Chair. How easy is in practice for local planning authorities to address housing delivery issues as part of their annual monitoring of local development plans? And can you set out the process by which this can be done and how this impacts on calculating how much land is required for overall housing?

09:20

Yes. The annual monitoring review is supposed to state how effective the policies have been performing, the reason why they're not performing, the steps taken to make sure that they're implemented, and whether the local planning authority intends to make a revision to their plan in order to correct non-delivery of part of the plan. So, they've got a set of identified housing sites, i.e. those with planning permission or assumptions, which come forward. They have a housing requirement set out. They're supposed to monitor against that and they're supposed to, then, make use of all of their powers to bring that forward. And, as I say, what we want to do is, we want to—. Well, first of all, we want to incentivise them to monitor it properly. So, we want them to produce the plan properly with the right information in it, and then we want them to have a series of those. So, if you produce one, you have one set of things, but by the time you've produced two or three and you're showing a pattern of, 'Actually, we've got quite a lot of land in this particular LDP that's not coming forward', then we expect them to take some remedial action along the lines I spoke about. So, you want them to then investigate—'Why is this site not coming forward? What would need to happen on this site to bring it forward?', and to work with partner organisations to bring that site into active development. As I say, we have a whole series of other things that go around that to help them do that. But part of this is to make sure that the local planning authority itself is aware of what's happening in its area. It just doesn't put the amount of housing it needs in the plan and then sits back and says, 'Job done, not my problem, here come the developers.' That's not what we want.

Well, it's early days is what I would say. So, it's a system in which we want to get some trends for local authorities to see properly, and, as I said, we're working very hard with individual local authorities who have particular issues around what we can do to help them with those issues. Just to give you some examples: Neil talked about some examples where somebody might be sitting on land because the land value is going up and, actually, it's just seen as an investment. But there are other issues. There are stalled sites because, actually, it's been allocated for housing, but it turns out that there's some problem with the composition of the site—it requires more remediation, for example, or it's got some other geological issue. So, we need to work with the local authorities for them to understand what the issue on each of their sites is, and then to see what we can do to remediate that. And then, frankly, if that site can't be remediated and brought forward, then to take that out and to put a different one in. What you don't want is to have a site sitting there for 15 years undeveloped with everybody saying, 'Well, we're going to have 600 houses on that site.' That's not producing the housing we need.

It's about getting them to give us the information to be self-improving, if I can put it that way, so that they have that information and then we push them to come forward with the revision of their plan where they haven't been able to bring those sites forward. It should work, I suppose, is what I'm trying to say. It's a bit early days; we haven't got that much evidence of it working so far, but I'm confident it will work.

Okay. And then we're moving on to more third party rights in planning appeals. Mike.

Yes. There's a belief held by a number of my constituents, and possibly by me, that the interests of developers take priority over that of local residents in the planning process. I only have to mention something that has caused both you and me a huge amount of concern, houses in multiple occupation, where local residents feel that their streets are being turned from residential streets into—they use the word 'student' but what they mean is housing of multiple occupancy held by young people, which, as you know, is not necessarily the same thing. Do you actually think that the current balance between the developer and the local residents is right?

As I said, I think there are some real complications in allowing third party appeal rights. So, this would be where a local authority allows planning consent to go forward and then a neighbour or a local person who can prove an interest is allowed to appeal that planning consent, to have it overturned. I think that's really problematic, to be honest. It's very difficult to always understand what the locus for that is, and people, also, are just aggrieved at the outcome, even if it's been done completely in accordance with the rules and in line with the plan. So, it's hard to see—apart from a sense of injustice that you haven't had the outcome you wanted, it's often hard to see what the grounds for that appeal might be other than, as I say, you haven't had the outcome that you wanted. And, in law, it's very difficult to have what would effectively be a complete re-hearing of the whole application because somebody didn't like the outcome. So, it's the same when a developer appeals: they can't appeal because they didn't like the outcome; they have to appeal because something has gone wrong in the system. They have to be able to find grounds where the local authority who's made that decision hasn't made it inside the plan, or has taken considerations into account that are not material planning considerations and so on—so, a set of rules that have to be met in order for that appeal to go forward.

The issue with houses in multiple occupation, for example, is that most local authorities had not had anything in their local development plan to restrict the numbers of particular types of accommodation in an area, as you know, and then didn't follow that up, even when they did, with a density strategy that can be implemented. So, often it's the case that the system by which you would control that had not actually been put in place by the local authority. Where it has been put in place, then most people are aggrieved where planning consent is allowed outside of the plan. I think that's more of a problem, to be honest, because then the local people would have had their say in the development plan, where the process has worked properly; the system and policies are in place that they wanted put in place for their local area, and, where consent is outside of the plan, I think that's a rather different kettle of fish. So, I'm prepared to look at that one, but I do think having just everybody allowed to appeal on any grounds whatsoever just because they're aggrieved at the outcome is not a sensible system, and would lead to a completely uncertain set of principles in which you would not be able to have a functioning system. 

09:25

Let's look at the current system: you have Cardiff council, for example, who've got supplementary planning guidance regarding HMOs, and the inspector for a long period of time took no notice of that supplementary planning guidance whatsoever when he was giving planning permission. It's not the council that people really tend to appeal against—most people think the council gets it right most of the time; it's the inspectors who come in, know nothing about the area, make a decision, leave. It's the inspectorate that is the big problem. The number of people—you must have had it in yours, as a constituency Member—who are really pleased when the council refuse planning permission for something only to discover, six months down the line, the inspector's come along, overruled the council, overruled the views of local people, and made a decision, and often a decision I don't believe any rational person would make. 

Well, I can't agree with some of the comments you made there, but I'm certainly aware of circumstances where a local planning authority has refused a planning consent and an inspector has overturned it. The system is a really clear, rule-based system, and often if a—. So, I'm not going to comment on the individual issues raised on particular local development plans there, but often what's happening there is you've got a supplementary planning guidance in place that isn't complemented by the original plan. So, actually, the weight that's given to it is incorrect in the decision-making process.

The thing about making decisions in a planning process is that they're very process driven. You go through a very specific process of looking to see what the plan says in particular areas, and you're driven down that process by what that plan says. So, you can't have a supplementary planning guidance put in place that contradicts something in the plan, or isn't backed up by something in the plan; it won't have the same weight. So, I'm not going to comment on the specifics there, Mike, because I'm not aware of them and it wouldn't be right to do so. But I have seen many instances in which what's happened is that the supplementary planning guidance is outwith the plan, and therefore can't be given the weight that local people would like it to have. And, actually, that's usually a failure of the local planning authority to have put the right process in place in the first place. We urge them constantly to keep their LDPs under review, and to put those processes in place in the right way so that the right amount of weight can be given to them all the way through the system.

So, as I say, I'm very carefully not commenting on the individual example you gave me there, but I am aware of the problem.    

Mike, I'm just going to bring Leanne in for a supplementary. 

Do you understand the frustration of local people, though, who watch the news and see debates like, for example, the environment crisis and the healthy eating obesity epidemic, and then they're part of a campaign to stop another takeaway coming into the local village? The fifth or sixth kebab shop is opened in place of the greengrocers. The local council has sympathy with the local residents and refuses planning permission, maybe against the officer's recommendation, when we all know when that goes to planning appeal it's going to get overturned. Then of course what happens is that local residents are rightly really frustrated and feel that their voices are not being heard at all. Is there any way that this system can be re-weighted, recalibrated, so that other policy objectives, like the obesity, like the environment question, come into play when these applications in our town centres—? And let's face it, some of these—. A new McDonalds—I don't want to name companies necessarily, but these companies are huge multinational corporations and they are killing our town centres, yet local residents and local authorities are often powerless to do anything about that. Surely, you can do something about that?

09:30

I do think we should do something about that. That is about change-of-use regulations and what can and can't be done with specific consents in a locality. Unfortunately, we do have some use class Orders that are very wide. One of them, for example, is the change from a restaurant to a pub or a nightclub, which causes ructions in my own constituency. So, I do think there's something we can do about reviewing the use class Orders to make them narrower, and we've been looking at exactly the point you've been making about fast food outlets and so on.

But often the decision made by the local authority is to keep that building empty for another two years, or to allow the kebab shop to go there or whatever. They are in a difficult position then, as well. Unless there's something in the system to try and weight against that kind of development—

I agree, we need to change. Just to be really—. We need to change the use class Orders so that you require full planning consent to change from, say, a greengrocers to a fast food outlet. At the moment, you don't. That's the issue. It's inside the same use class, isn't it? So, we need to change that. I completely agree with that. We have been looking at that. 

So, we have been looking at the different way you would categorise fast food compared to restaurants, compared to other type takeaways, and that's coming up with some knotty problems that we're trying to work through at the moment. So, those sort of cases are either based on a change of use, or there isn't necessarily the support in the local planning authority's own local development plan that allows them to resist that sort of application. So, it's trying to make sure we have the right policy framework. The inspector will make the decision based on the policy framework. If the policy isn't there—.

So, just to be really clear about that, there are some good examples from around Britain of authorities that have been very successful in doing that, and they've been very successful in doing that because they've meticulously gone through their own plan and put all of the right frameworks in place to allow them to have the maximum bang, if you like, when they make those decisions. And there are other things that can be done—so, you can put other restrictions on opening hours and litter and all the rest of it. Some planning authorities are better at it than others, but I am very sympathetic to us trying to find a way through the system that allows it. Just to give you some understanding of it, though, I think Neil just started down that road—we all know what we mean by a fast food restaurant, but actually when you come to define it it's much more difficult—so, anything that has takeaway food coming out of it, so, even if it's a kale shake, it's the same as if it's a, you know, whatever.

Well, can they be defined in a different way? So, for example, the local homemade pizza provider gets precedence in the local village over the multinational pizza corporation.

The local development plan can do that. It can put specific policies in place for specific developments in specific areas, but they have to go through the process of doing that. To be honest, we need to upskill our local authorities to make the best use of that. One of the things I was just talking about is helping local authorities get back the skills that they've lost over the years of austerity, frankly, so that they do have the strategic planning ability to put some of those policies in place. We can step up to that plate a little bit and help them do that as well.

Two points. One is: you talk about narrowing classes, are you going to consult on that? Because I think a lot of people would like to see that. Also, there is historical—. People got EV1, EV2 and a whole range of these back in 1960 that are hanging with them when we didn't have some of things that have come in under those things. I'll ask this as a rhetorical question: why is there a general belief that inspectors are infallible, because I have a view that inspectors must get it wrong some of the time by just being human beings?

09:35

No, but it's a view held right the way across Government, not just in planning, that inspectors are right no matter what, and I've seen a number of occasions when they've been—any rational person would think them wrong.

So, if I just talk a little bit about the use classes Order; so, we did—we are actively looking at, in particular, the food element of the use classes Order. So, in doing that, it's identified a number of issues. So, restaurants: commonly held to have a different impact to a takeaway. You then introduce people like Deliveroo and they have potentially exactly the same impact. How do you deal with that in a use class? So, there are a whole series of really knotty problems we're trying to work through as the whole nature of the business changes. So, it's not straightforward. You could say a restaurant's fine, and then, next week, they introduce a Deliveroo-type delivery service, and then it's very much like a takeaway. So, these problems are being looked at actively now. I can't pretend they're easy, because, whenever we think we've solved a problem, another problem crops up. So, we are looking at that. I agree: inspectors, they're human. They have different views. 

And, just finally from me, on the work under way to improve the effectiveness of the pre-application consultation.

Yes. So, we've published a best practice—I can't speak all of a sudden—best practice guide for developers to help them comply with their requirements, and encouraging them to go beyond by adopting a best practice approach to pre-application consultations. We're wanting to feed it into a future project to revise the development management procedure Order, but we haven't got a legislative slot for that at the moment, just to be clear, because, as you know, all our legislative time is being taken up by Brexit at the moment. So, trying to get hold of lawyers to work on other things is problematic, to say the least. I don't think you can underestimate the serious impact it's having on the resources that we have to do some of the things we'd really like to do. I just think people need to understand quite how much resource is being taken up. 

But we're very, very keen to make sure that the local planning authority is more involved in the pre-application process, and that, as I say, the voice of local people is heard very loud and clear in that. Very much what we want to do is what I said right at the beginning of this session, which is that we want to put the local plan back at the heart of the community, and we want to make sure that the community voice is enabled in that process loud and clear, including on pre-application consultations on big developments and so on, because that's the point in time that the developer is most likely to be able to modify or change their proposals in line with what is likely to happen as it goes through the planning process. And it's far better to be involved at that early stage in developing your local area than trying to fight off an advanced development further down. We all know that, from having been involved in it. So, we're really keen to look to see how we can get local authorities more involved at that stage, and to make sure that we get a bigger voice for the local community in that pre-application, and also that we get more use of pre-application consultations across the piece. 

Okay. We've talked about third party rights of appeal. Are any of the options for limiting a third party right of appeal presented in the report from the Cardiff Environmental Law Foundation Clinic more acceptable to you than others, and what is the evidence base behind your position?

I think I've sort of said this already, really. I'm pretty clear that I think, other than in decisions made outside of the LDP process, it's really problematic to allow third party appeals. We know that the burden on planning authorities and the inspectorate would be enormous. The resource it would take up would be enormous, and you'd introduce an element of uncertainty into the system, which I think would be deeply unhelpful. I did say, however, that I have some sympathy with allowing a local voice to be heard at other parts of the process, but that falls far short of allowing an appeal. So, for example, I talked about site visits and allowing a much better local voice in the run-up to the decision itself. But I'm not at all convinced that third party appeals would do anything other than clog the system up.  

Okay. And what are your views on introducing a new, directly affected residents category of consultees/appellants?

Well, again, what do you mean by 'directly affected'? There's a big issue there about—. There are examples where consultation will be taken around the neighbours—say, four houses each side of a development, but not five houses each side of a development. It would be really quite difficult to define 'directly affected residents'. So, a development in a small village in the middle of Conwy would probably affect the whole village, they would argue. Well, if we defined it as four people either side of the development, then the fifth person would be very annoyed. So, I think it's actually quite problematic. It sounds attractive, but when you start trying to define what it is, it's very, very complex.

09:40

Quite often, some local authorities are reticent to—. Where retrospective planning permission is sought, where people actually completely flout the actual plan that they've been given, and so they keep applying by retrospective means, it grows, and grows, and grows. Do you have any intention to look at the retrospective methodology, in terms of planning?

That's a local planning department policy. They don't have to give retrospective planning consent, other than in very specific circumstances, where it's completely in with the plan—why wouldn't you? But if it's outside of the plan, why on earth wouldn't you enforce? So, that's a very local matter. And just to be really clear, if somebody's built something that's actually completely compliant with the plan and quite clearly would have got planning consent, and they forgot to fill in the form, that's one thing. If somebody's built something that's completely outwith the plan and has flouted all the rules, the local planning authority is perfectly capable of enforcing planning and forcing them to take it down. So, that's a very local decision; that's not something for me to interfere in. Those are the two categories, and, obviously, there's some nuance in the middle, but they should take a view. If somebody is repeatedly applying for retrospective planning consent, I know what view I would take. [Laughter.]

Thank you. And then moving on, Leanne, do you want to do 'end conflict of interest in local authority constitution'?

Are you content that current guidelines and restrictions on local authority planning officers carrying out private consultancy work are sufficiently robust? And what justification have you got for allowing that practice in the first place?

So, the short answer to that is 'yes'. I don't see any justification for separating planning officers out from any other officer. There is a set of rules in place to allow secondary employment by local government professionals of all sorts. They are across the piece, they apply to every single professional the authority employs. Local authorities employ an enormously wide range of people with professional qualifications—from building inspectors to planning officers, lawyers, trading standards people, all kinds of people. And there is a robust code of conduct in place to ensure that people who undertake secondary employment do so inside the code of conduct.

So, is that a generic code of conduct, covering all officers in local authorities?

Yes, and it's robust as well, and it has robust provisions in it for conflict of interest, and it's monitored by the monitoring officer of the local authority.

So, you don't think there's an argument for a specific code of conduct for planning officers, which would give consistency through local authorities.

No, I don't. I don't know why you would separate out planning officers in particular. Why would you do them and not lawyers, for example?

Well, I think because, generally, there's a public interest, and people keep a closer eye on planning decisions, and sometimes things don't look as transparent as they may look. And in order to get confidence from the public, maybe the system could be more transparent and more robust, and more specific to planning officers.

No, I don't agree with that. And you're assuming—. So, for example, if a planning officer works two days a week for the local planning authority, you're saying they can't work at all outside of that employment. That just doesn't work. It would mean that people could only work full time or not work at all.

But you could have a system whereby they weren't allowed to work on a private basis within the local authority that they—

They are obliged to avoid conflict of interest, and they are obliged to declare any conflict of interest. It's quite a robust policy, and it applies across all professionals. All professionals would have that perceived conflict of interest. You have to be careful that you don't set up a system that prevents anyone from working part time for the local authority, for example, which would create severe skills shortages across Wales and have some unintended gender effects as well. So, I personally am very happy that the current code of conduct is very robust, and the monitoring officers are enforcing it very robustly. Of course, there will sometimes be complaints about perceived conflicts of interest, and there is a process in place for that to be vigorously investigated—and it is vigorously investigated.

09:45

Just on top of what the Minister's said, where the planning officer's a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, they're governed by the RTPI's code of conduct as well.

Yes. So, they'd be debarred. And that's the case for all the other professionals as well. So, if you're a local authority lawyer, for example, and you did that, you'd be debarred or struck off the register. So, it's pretty hefty, the penalty for it, and there's a robust system in place to monitor it. I have to say, I've been one of the people who does monitor it and I'm pretty happy that it works. But, as I say, there would be unintended consequences that you should think through carefully if you said that you couldn't do it, including a severe skills shortage. Nobody would be able to work part time.   

Okay. Well, thank you, Minister, and your officials for your attendance and answering our questions. As I mentioned, a copy of the transcript will be sent to check for any factual inaccuracies. As Members, we will now consider the evidence we've heard and agree the steps that the committee wishes to stake next in relation to the four petitions. Thank you.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod ar gyfer yr eitem 4 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the meeting for item 4 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

We now move to item 3 on the agenda—motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting for the following item. All agreed? Thank you. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:46.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:46.

10:05

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 10:05.

The committee reconvened in public at 10:05.

5. Deisebau newydd
5. New petitions

So, now we move on to 5.1—[Inaudible.]—amendment to the Education (Student Support) (Wales) Regulations 2018. 

'We call on the National Assembly to make the amendments to the Regulations to address the current limitation of Regulation 6, Condition 5 which prevents Welsh students accessing student finance to study at UK higher education institutions where the location of study is at their overseas campus which we consider could be achieved in one of either two ways'.

So, an initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Education on 14 May. A research briefing on the petition and related issues has been provided, and the petitioner has also provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward? You could write back to the Minister for Education to ask whether she would consider designating the courses provided by the University of London Institute in Paris to enable Welsh-resident students to receive student support to study there and whether any discussions have been held with the institution about this. Or, you could write to the University of London Institute in Paris to ask whether it has previously sought to have its courses designated by the Welsh Government in order to enable students resident in Wales to access student support.

Do we know how many students are likely to be affected by this?

I don't know the precise number. It's a small number of students from Wales. It's a relatively small institution in Paris, and we know that there are at least two or three Welsh students. The issue appears to have happened more recently, so students currently studying there have accessed student finance in the past, but since the regulations were changed in 2018, new applicants have been receiving different decisions around this.

I'm confused; not an unusual state for me. If they're paying Queen Mary University tuition fees, why aren't they Queen Mary University students, as opposed to the institute in Paris? If the fees are going—. In my understanding, you're going to be the student of the people you're paying the fees to. So, if that were the case, then Queen Mary is an acceptable university, so I'm not quite sure why, if they're paying the fees to Queen Mary—. Because, students going out on a year in other countries is normal, especially for language students. I think it's done by almost every language student; they spend a year in the country of which they are learning a language. I'm not quite sure why, if they're paying Queen Mary, you need to do anything different and why Queen Mary aren't the responsible body. Can we ask that?

The problem here is the regulations require at least half of the teaching of your entire degree course to be provided in the United Kingdom to make you eligible for student finance. The way this particular university runs these courses, in this particular institute, is that you study your whole degree in Paris. So, even though it's a UK university, the courses do not meet the requirements for half of the teaching to be provided in the UK.

So, there are two possible solutions to this issue, if the Government were minded to do it, which is either to change that provision to say, if it is a UK university, we'll amend the regulations to say there's no longer that requirement for half the teaching to be provided in the UK, but that, of course, could have quite wide implications, or there is a process whereby the Minister is able to exceptionally designate certain courses to enable students to access funding, and the investigations that have been done by the research service into this issue indicate that that is most likely to be what's happened in England—that the Minister in England has designated it so students based in England can access funding. So, that's probably the simpler solution to the particular—

10:10

Shall we take both of those back to the Minister, then, by letter?

Yes. Are you in favour? Okay.

Moving on, P-05-886: 'Stop the Red Route (A55/A494 corridor)'. This was submitted by Linda Scott having collected a total of 1,275 signatures. An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Economy and Transport on 6 June, a research briefing on the petition and related issues has been provided, and the petitioner has also provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward?

I'd actually quite like to have the Minister in to answer more detailed questions on it. I think the response that he came back with certainly raised a number of alarm bells for me. The traffic surveys don't seem to be the most scientific surveys they could have done. They largely seem to be in terms of basically pulling drivers off the road and asking them where they were coming from and where they were going to, which isn't particularly scientific. The Government's just wasted £114 million on the M4 relief road, so I think it would be wise to at least have the Minister in for further questioning to—[Inaudible.]

I can support that. Michelle is new to committee—what we tend to do is get a group of items relating to an issue—highways, for example—and we invite the Minister in, like we did today, where we covered four petitions. So, if we have other petitions on highways et cetera, and we get two or three of them, we invite the Minister in. 

This isn't a minor issue for people in north Wales. This is a major infrastructure issue.

If the committee wanted to look at this petition and the issue of whether this road should be built or not in detail, a standard committee inquiry approach might be to take evidence from petitioners and maybe others, culminating with—to provide a deeper evidence base, to ask those questions of the Minister.

It would obviously be in the autumn term now. The committee only has one more meeting before summer. I suppose the question, therefore, might come in terms of how time-sensitive would investigation of this issue be in relation to the Government's plans to progress with this road scheme. But it might be sensible to have a session with the petitioners first to explore those details as a minimum.

Okay. 'Make GCSE Welsh Language compulsory in all schools in Wales'—this is by Gwion Rhisiart, having collected 175 signatures. An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Education on 29 May. A research briefing on the petition and related issues has been provided. The petitioner has also provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward? I think the issue here is independent schools in Wales are not required to follow the national curriculum and therefore are not required to teach Welsh, either first or second language. This will even remain the case when the new curriculum is rolled out. She states that:

'Independent schools are independent in their governance; as such the Welsh Government does not have the powers to insist the teaching of Welsh Language is compulsory in every independent school.'

Possible actions we could take forward—         

Just to explain slightly further here, the text of the original petition relates to that issue around teaching of Welsh language in independent schools. As is the normal process, we wrote to the Government and got a response back on that basis and sought the petitioner's further comments in relation to that response. The comments that the petitioner's more recently come back with don't appear to relate to that issue, about whether Welsh is taught in independent schools, but more apply to the standard of teaching of Welsh as a second language courses in all other schools. So, I think there's a decision for the committee here, in terms of whether Members feel able to take forward issues that are not precisely the same as the issues raised in the original petition text, which will be what people have signed to bring a petition forward. The committee could take forward one, both or neither of those issues, depending on—.

10:15

I think I'd suggest, in terms of teaching Welsh at independent schools—I'd be interested to know from the independent schools themselves why they made the decision not to teach Welsh. I think it's a fair question to ask the association of independent schools, perhaps.

To be clear, we don't have evidence one way or the other, actually, as to whether they do or don't, as a committee. So, that might be a good place to start.

Well, I suppose, the question then is: does the committee feel it wants to take forward the issues around the provision of Welsh second language teaching in wider schools?

We can't, thought, can we? Do we have competence to do that?

In terms of state schools. So, if you're studying in a school where you're studying Welsh second language, the petitioner is raising concerns over the quality of that teaching. But, as I say, it's not covered by the subject matter of the petition. 

You could kind of argue, really, that the petitioner doesn't have a mandate from the other signatories to expand it to that.

Okay. If the committee's content, we can take forward the issue around independent schools, by writing as has been suggested.

6. Y wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am ddeisebau blaenorol
6. Updates to previous petitions

Item 6.1: 'Establish Statutory Public Rights of Access to Land and Water for Recreational and Other Purposes'. This was last considered on 7 May, and we agreed to write to the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government to share the petitioners’ latest comments and seek her views, and to ask for more detail about the Welsh Government’s intended approach to resolving issues around access to inland waters, following her written statement of 4 April. A response from the Deputy Minister was received on 12 June, and the petitioners have also provided further comments. How would you like to go forward with this, Members?

I think this is the concern being raised about angling and paddle boat—sport and recreation. They both contribute. There is a bit of a stalemate. So, to try and resolve the stalemate, she's asked the national access forum to give particular priority to laying the groundwork for greater dialogue on inland water issues that is needed. She's also seeking specialist advice from Natural Resources Wales. She believes the long-term answer needs to come from both groups, and has encouraged them, through a written statement, to find a practical joint solution. She says, should she not be satisfied of reasonable progress within 18 months:

'I plan to consider future legislation on access to water. However, at this stage I do not have a set view of what any such legislation would look like.'

How do you want to go forward?

I can tell you one thing—I've met the two groups and there is not a meeting of minds. What more can we do, if anything? All we can really do is either close it or hold it until we get the response in 18 months' time.

Or close the petition. But there's nothing further, practically, we can do. They're going out to consultation over the next 18 months. They're not going to make any decision during that time, so we can either close it and tell them to come back if they're not happy with the result in 18 months.

I think this is something that's been bubbling away quite merrily for quite some time, and I know that Ministers and previous Ministers have always believed that, really, this is for two groups to try and come together. Whether legislation is the way forward, who can say? But, clearly, she's going to look at it again in 18 months. I'm not sure what we as a Petitions Committee— 

10:20

There's nothing more we can do. All we actually do, effectively, is collect complaints from petitioners, forward them to Ministers, get the response and bounce back and forward until such time as we get either the two talking to each other or a decision, sometimes in favour of the petition, sometimes against. We've gone as far as we can with this. I would close it.

Yes, okay. I agree. So, we'll close that petition.

'Put an end to the Cross Border and Sub-contracting Taxi Licensing loophole'—this is page 94 in your papers, and it was submitted by Taxi Drivers of Cardiff, first considered in 2017. They want,

'in the context of its consultation into the reforms of the taxi licensing laws, to put a stop to the "cross border" and "sub-contracting" loophole in the law which means hundreds of out of town taxis and private hire'—[Interruption.]

How do you want to go forward? 

Well, I think that there's going to be a report into the Welsh Government's White Paper 'Improving public transport'. Shall we wait for that?

Shall we group these? They are grouped, aren't they? So, there's the next one: 'Allow Free Movement of Taxi Drivers to Carry Out Private Hire Work Anywhere in Wales'.

Again, this is two groups of people. I think Welsh Government is reviewing the consultation responses. Await their response and then go back to them.

Yes. Okay. Yes.

Item 6.4, page 99 in your pack: P-05-827 'Roads surrounding Trago Mills/Cyfartha Retail Park'. Submitted by Rowan Powell and first considered by the committee in September 2018, having collected 141 signatures. They're calling on the National Assembly for Wales

'to urge the Welsh Government to look at the issue of the build up of traffic on the A470 around the vicinity of Trago Mills and Cyfartha Retail Park and put in place a new traffic system to alleviate the amount of traffic'.

We first considered this on 25 September, agreeing to await the views of the petitioner on the information provided by the Cab Sec, before considering whether to take any further actions on the petition. The clerking team has contacted the petitioner on a number of occasions over the intervening period, but no response or further information has been received. What would you like to do?

Well, if the petitioner hasn't come back to us, close the petition. I think this was a petition caused by the initial problems around Trago Mills when it first opened and the major traffic problems, which have largely gone.

Okay. Close that one.

So, 6.5: P-05-847 'Create water fountains in the centre of cities and towns to eliminate plastic waste'. Page 100 in your pack. Tereza Tothova submitted this and it was first considered in November 2018, having collected 149 signatures. We last considered it on 7 May, we wrote to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs. We received a response. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comments. The Minister states, which is a great move, I've got to say:

'There are now over 1000 Refill Stations in Wales',

under the refill scheme, so it is happening. The scheme is UK-wide and is building an international presence. The Minister does express concern over the cost of installing individual water fountains in existing developments. However, the Government is encouraging their inclusion in the design of new developments and public buildings. Also, the letter contains information about what the Government is doing to reduce plastic use and to increase the recycling of plastics.

If you're satisfied, I think we could—

Close the petition and thank the petitioner for bringing it to our attention. But this is a success and progress.

Yes, I think that is very good progress, going forward, so there's a proposal to close that one.

10:25

Thank you. 'Small Business Rates Relief Review', this was first submitted by Endaf Cooke and Gavin Owen, with 1,132 signatures in January of this year. 

'We call on the Welsh Government to revise the small business rates relief system so that businesses with a rateable value of £10,000 or under should receive a 100% discount.'

We first considered it on 19 January. We went to the Welsh Government with it. The clerking team has contacted the petitioners on a number of occasions over the intervening period, but no response or further information has been received. There is an imbalance because at the moment small business rate relief is available to premises with a rateable value of up to £6,000, meaning that they are exempt from paying business rates, while those with a value of between £6,001 and £12,000 receive tapered relief. High street rate relief also provides relief to eligible high street premises, such as shops, pubs and cafes, with a rateable value of up to £50,000. How would you like to take this petition forward, being as the petitioners are not in contact with us?

Once the petitioner has stopped being in contact with us, the only thing we can do is close the petition, otherwise we'd just have it open forever.

I agree with Mike, but it is a shame, because this disparity between business rates in England and business rates in Wales is just sucking investment from Wales into England.

Okay. So, then, on to education. Item 6.7, 'Protecting Class Sizes in Design and Technology Classrooms and Workshops', page 104. Aled Dafis submitted this in March 2018, having collected 338 signatures. We last considered this on 7 May, agreeing to write back to the Minister for Education to question how effective the article within the Dysg newsletter will be in reminding school leaders to revisit risk assessments relating to design and technology classes, and to ask why specific guidance in relation to this subject cannot be produced. A response was received from the Minister on 5 June. The petitioner has provided further comments. The Minister described Dysg newsletters as

'the trusted mechanism through which my department issues advice to schools....I am confident that this is the best way to deliver consistent messaging on important topics.'

Another success. I mean, we've got the Minister to write out and remind people of the importance of having a risk assessment, which will almost certainly limit the number of pupils per adult within the class.

Okay. So, Michelle, are you happy to thank the petitioners for bringing this forward?

And then the following two items will be considered together: 6.8 and 6.9, 'Make curriculum for life lessons compulsory', submitted by Emily Jones on behalf of the Gwent regional youth forum, and we've also got 'Make political education a compulsory element of the new national curriculum'. This was submitted by Kaiesha Page and was first considered in January 2019, having collected 117 signatures.

We considered both petitions on 7 May, agreeing to write back to the Minister for Education. The Minister does intend to introduce educational material for those who are newly enfranchised, along with communication strategies to raise awareness. In addition, the Minister is going to be writing to schools to make them aware of these resources and to highlight the opportunities to cover political education within personal and social education and the Welsh baccalaureate. The Government will be working closely with local authorities and the Assembly’s education service to encourage young people to get engaged in the democratic process. In relation to youth work, the Minister states that political development is already explicit in strategies and occupational standards. Later this month, the Government will publish a new youth work strategy for Wales, supported by £10 million of funding in 2019-20. How would you like to take this forward?

If I could say, Chair, one of the things that strikes me about these petitions now is that we've previously grouped them because they were both about curriculum reform and they were both about subject matters where the petitioners were arguing that they're not adequately covered by the existing curriculum. The issues now being raised by the different sets of petitioners are divergent from each other, so it may be the time for the committee to ungroup them and consider separate options for the two. Up until this point, we have pursued the issue of political education because the petitioners in relation to that petition have been more forthcoming with their views, so we've received quite a bit of information about what the Government intends to do around votes at 16 and increasing political education under the new curriculum; less so in relation to the life skills, because that's probably something that committee hasn't explored in quite the same depth yet. So it may be that it would serve both petitioners better to decouple them at this point and consider separate actions.

10:30

Okay. Do Members agree with that? Yes. Okay. So, as regards the actions going forward—?

The Welsh Youth Parliament, as Members will be aware, has chosen three substantive topics to focus on. One of them is life skills in the curriculum, so the Youth Parliament during July is holding two events with young people, one in south Wales and one in north Wales, and intends to report some findings back in the autumn. So it could be that the committee might want to see what the Youth Parliament itself comes up with in terms of proposals or recommendations in relation to how life skills should be better taught.

The Youth Parliament so far expect to report their findings in October, but we can monitor precisely when that happens and bring it back to the committee at the appropriate point. 

So, in relation to political education, there's been a substantive response, which you've referred to, Chair, back from the Minister, and at this point in time we await further views from the petitioner in response to that. It does appear that the Government has quite substantive plans in this area and is seeking to work with councils and local authorities as the voting age changes. But it may be the best action at this point to wait for the petitioners' views and reaction to that. 

Are Members in favour of that? Yes. Okay. So, that brings us to the end of our meeting. Thank you, everybody. 

Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 10:32.

The meeting ended at 10:32.